27 September 2012Isaiah 66:10-13
"Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her – that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom." (vv. 10-11)
This final chapter of Isaiah's all-encompassing vision of God's purpose is an encouragement to readers to, in New Testament words, "confirm [their call] and election" (2 Peter 1:10). Before and after today's passage there are reminders of God's judgement and of the need to take God's word seriously. But here the appeal is to identify fully with Jerusalem in order to be part of God's consummated plan of salvation.
Christian readers, recognising that it is only through Christ and at the time of his future coming that the hope of a perfect world will be revealed, will interpret "Jerusalem" in verse 10 as standing for the worldwide Church in its invisible spiritual nature rather than primarily its concrete manifestations (cf Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 21:10). We may find it easier to grumble about the Church in the latter sense than to be glad for her in the former sense, as verse 10 urges. But it does also expect us to "mourn over her", lamenting the sins of the visible Church of which all its members are a part.
The remaining verses (verses 11-13) outline the blessings of being thus fully identified with the people of God. In an all too rare biblical use of female imagery for God, and following a related image in verse 7 of the Promised Age as one of pain-free childbirth, Isaiah describes God as a nursing mother whose breasts are ever full so that her child finds every need met in terms of drinking deeply and experiencing every kind of caress and comfort.
The reference to "prosperity (or peace) like a river" (v. 12) relates back to earlier failure through disobedience to enjoy lasting peace (Isaiah 48:18); in a land where all streams are seasonal the reference here is to a year-round abundant water-source. At the very beginning of the book (Isaiah 2:2) the nations were envisaged streaming towards Jerusalem for the Lord's blessing; here they are again, creating a world city, where the inner reality of peace is matched by outward wealth shared by all.
- To what extent is the situation in and around the city of Jerusalem today a help or a hindrance in acting on the instruction to rejoice and mourn for Jerusalem in verse 10?
- In what ways do you find helpful or unhelpful the image of the good life to come in terms of nursing at God's breast? What seem to be reasons for your response?
- If verse 10 indeed encourages the individual Christian to identify with the universal Church of Christ, what implications in terms of local church membership are there?
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